A few days ago, I bumped into the 2002 Ugandan top-flight table doing rounds on social media. Beyond the fact that SC Villa won the title – the last season before madness set in with the creation of Arrow boys, Express and KCC finished second and third respectively.
What’s more impressive is the sight of Lyantonde FC ending the season with same points as KCC. Beyond that, however, there is hardly anything to be impressed about and of the 15 teams that took part that season, only four of them are still in the top-flight –with the rest having folded upon relegation.
Police FC which ended the season in fourth represents the only other club outside of the traditional ‘Big Three’ to be accurate.
A deeper look into the seasons that followed shows how high the turnover of new teams is every new season. From 2002 to 2018, more than 30 teams have joined and the top-flight only to be relegated almost immediately; a trend I find worrying.
And it is not even about to end; as things stand, there is a big possibility that all the three teams that joined the top may go down as well. In fact, more than half of the teams in the Uganda Premier League (UPL) were non-existent a decade ago.
Therefore, they lack the legacy to hold the team afloat when it goes down. Football purists may find no problem with the status quo but anyone who knows what it takes to invest in football will tell you how stability is needed for any team to survive and that stability lies in the ability to favourably compete with the best.
In professional football set-ups, teams joining the topflight go through a rigorous process to test their credentials and even when they join the top tier, they do so with a bit of incentive.
Take the South African league, where two of the bottom three get relegated while the third-from-bottom plays a playoff with those intending to take the slot.
We all know how in England, huge prize monies for the new entrants allows them to strengthen ahead of the season.
It is easy to divert my point to struggling Nyamityobora FC, where I’m the club president, but that is just a symptom to the general disease. Truth is; Nyamityobora, along with Ndejje and Paidha are in deep waters and are experiencing how tough it is to be in the top-flight for the first time.
And it is not necessarily due to lack of funding or poor organisation, it is simply due to the fact that the team is on a learning expedition.
Many times these new entrants’ top players are always eager to join a big team for bigger exposure. For instance, Robert Mukongotya, the outstanding player for Nyamityobora in the Big League, left the team when it won promotion and decided to join URA FC for what he told me was to better his chances of making the national team.
People always bring the curious case of Onduparaka and how it managed to take the league by storm but we’ve had such cases before only for teams to nosedive the moment a key funder/mobiliser leaves.
So, it would be prudent for authorities to set up a special fund for newly-promoted teams. For instance, creating a special Shs100m fund for new entrants would not only level the playing field but also generate more competition in the lower divisions. Remember we had a system of 2 points score which was changed to 3 points.
Let’s not look at football management with a textbook mindset but with a businessman’s bird eyes view. Our leaders of today are caged in FIFA statutes and rhetoric of promotion and backward relegations.
It doesn’t add up for you to demote and promote without mulching the promoted clubs. My nine months at Nyamityobora have taught me that few things beat team experience.
I have seen my boys lose a game in the heads even without kicking a ball yet the same set of players would be battle-hardened if they survive the first season.
I have no doubt that if we survive relegation this season, the team will be in a stronger position to challenge the big boys.
The author is Nyamityobora FC president